True forgiveness transforms who we are. It is a process that comes from the head and the heart and results in emotional control. Freedom, and a more real view of life, then allows us to give up resentment and come to view the perpetrator with compassion. I learned those awesome forgiveness benefits in a two-day workshop I attended in the late 1990’s given by Robert Enright and Susan Freedman from the International Forgiveness Institute. I was searching for real forgiveness for my father, not just the cheap kind because it is something you are supposed to do.
I also learned denial of anger and pride were obstacles to true forgiveness. It is humbling to admit being wounded. Pride was said to be a formidable foe for we are very unaware of it. Therefore, it can be healthy to get angry and prideful to deny it. I learned forgiveness is most needed where you feel the least safe, and you need to be in a safe place to work on forgiveness. It was also comforting to learn I could forgive without reconciling since reconciliation was dependent on a change in the abuser. I attended that workshop soon after my mother and I were both in safer places and I had already experienced a wonderful cleansing burst of rage when my father denied me any voice in my mother’s worsening dementia and care. I was well on my way to true forgiveness.
In my memoir I recorded what I wrote the evening following that workshop:
And the very next night an honest anger rose in my chest when I read a 1987 Archdiocesan Synod recommendation, item 5, “Acknowledge and respond to racism.” Two words were so obviously missing—and sexism.
The misogyny of my church is outrageous! It is the woman! It is why priests still cannot marry! It is why women are kept in place! It is embarrassing and infuriating! Dear God, please help me channel my anger appropriately.
And the very next day a public radio discussion was on a New York City police brutality scandal. The interviewer asked, “Did statistics show decreases in brutality where there were more women on the police force? The guest said yes, and added it was also true for minorities. He ended the program saying, “There is no question that any organization needs to be made up of the people it serves.”
I have come to understand my complicity in patriarchal abuse both through my father and my church. I found my voice, refused the victim role, created a safer infrastructure, and now live with much less resentment. Perhaps it is good to hold on to a little resentment to spark continuing change. It’s been twenty-six years since that 1987 halfhearted Archdiocesan Synod recommendation. I continue to be challenged to trust in the slow work of God.
What if we all came to see our complicity in patriarchal abuse?